In NC prisons, synthetic marijuana has emerged as a deadly threat

K2, one of the commonly used brands of synthetic marijuana, is widespread in North Carolina’s prisons. Medical experts say it poses serious health risks.

K2, one of the commonly used brands of synthetic marijuana, is widespread in North Carolina’s prisons. Medical experts say it poses serious health risks.

By Ames Alexander

and Gavin Off

[email protected]

[email protected]

 

North Carolina prison officials are grappling with a growing threat – synthetic marijuana, which is suspected in the death of at least one inmate and the hospitalizations of dozens of others this year.

Known by brand names such as K2 and Spice, synthetic marijuana is readily available online. It’s marketed as a safe alternative to marijuana. But in reality, it’s addictive and can be far more dangerous than marijuana, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Using it can trigger seizures and suicidal thoughts, elevate blood pressure, and increase the risk of heart attacks.

I can smell it burning right now.

James McElreath, an inmate at Scotland Correctional Institution, speaking about the widespread use of synthetic marijuana in North Carolina’s prisons

Officials began seeing K2 in the North Carolina prisons about two years ago, according to prison spokesman Keith Acree.

“Since then, dozens of inmates have been out to local hospitals as a result of K2 use, some of them with hospital stays of more than a week,” Acree told the Observer.

Several inmates interviewed by the Observer said that K2 has become widespread in the prisons – and that most of it is brought in by correctional officers.

“I can smell it burning right now,” James McElreath, an inmate at Scotland Correctional Institution, said during a recent telephone interview.

State prison leaders have acknowledged that most contraband in maximum security facilities is smuggled in by staff members.

Among the recent emergencies tied to synthetic marijuana:

▪ In January, 10 inmates at Harnett Correctional Institution were hospitalized after suspected overdoses from synthetic marijuana.

▪ In May, 14 prisoners at Hyde Correctional Institution were hospitalized. Again, K2 was suspected as the cause.

▪ In June, a 38-year-old inmate at Caledonia Correctional Institution was found dead in his cell. State prison officials said the victim, Charles Moss, may have been using K2.

Death of an artist

Fellow inmates believe synthetic marijuana also played a role in the recent death of David Wise, a 58-year-old prisoner at Scotland Correctional Institution, about 100 miles southeast of Charlotte.

Wise, an artist whose work had been displayed in galleries on the Outer Banks, had been serving time for drug offenses and assault by strangulation. He was scheduled to be released in 2018.

But on the afternoon of Aug. 2, a fellow prisoner found Wise unresponsive on his bunk. Inmate James K. Jones told the Observer that Wise had been smoking K2 with another prisoner about noon that day. A few hours later, Jones found Wise looking gray and lifeless.

“I thought he was dead,” Jones said.

Dozens of inmates have been out to local hospitals as a result of K2 use, some of them with hospital stays of more than a week.

Keith Acree, a spokesman for the North Carolina prisons, writing about the toll that synthetic marijuana is taking on the state’s inmates

Wise was taken to a local hospital, where he died two days later. Doctors found he had suffered a heart attack.

An autopsy concluded that Wise died as a result of heart disease. But medical examiners did not test for synthetic marijuana in Wise’s body. A spokesperson for the state Department of Health and Human Services said medical examiners don’t test for synthetic marijuana unless investigators ask them to do so.

Acree said prison officials initially thought that K2 might be a factor in Wise’s death, but “the medical information we were getting from doctors and the hospital did not support that.”

McElreath, the inmate at Scotland Correctional, said he’d also had seen Wise using K2.

“I told him that’s insanity,” McElreath said. “He’d say, ‘Hey man. I wish I could stop, but I’m a drug addict.’ ”

McElreath says he has seen inmates so impaired by K2 that they have attempted to jump from the second tier of a cellblock.

“I’ve seen them laying on the concrete floor swimming like they were on a lake,” McElreath said. “I’ve seen them freak out, crying, screaming for their Dad or Mom.”

‘On the lookout’

Prison officials say they are trying to educate inmates about the perils of synthetic marijuana. Prison leaders have incorporated information about K2 into inmate orientation, and have put up posters in inmate living areas warning of the dangers.

“Prison staff are constantly on the lookout for it,” Acree wrote.

Manufacturers make synthetic marijuana by spraying mind-altering chemicals on dried plant material. It’s often advertised as potpourri or herbal incense, but those who smoke it are generally looking to get high.

A 2015 report by the federal Centers for Disease Control found that the number of people nationwide who had died from synthetic marijuana had tripled over the previous year.

North Carolina legislators outlawed the manufacture, sale and distribution of synthetic marijuana in 2013.

State Rep. Craig Horn, a Weddington Republican who helped sponsor the legislation, says synthetic marijuana is less prevalent in stores than it used to be. But he acknowledged that it is still available online, and that some manufacturers are trying to skirt such laws by including a disingenuous warning on their packages: “Not for Human Consumption.”

If anything, Horn says, he has become more worried about synthetic marijuana.

“This stuff is getting more dangerous because it’s getting more potent,” he said. “The folks who make this stuff constantly push the envelope.”

Ames Alexander: 704-358-5060, @amesalex

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Obama commutes sentences for 46 nonviolent drug offenders

The White House announced Monday that President Obama had commuted the prison sentences of 46 nonviolent drug offenders, bringing the total number of commutations issued by the president to 89.

That’s far higher than his two predecessors. Former President Bush commuted the sentences of 11 people, and Former President Clinton did so for 61 people.

"These men and women were not hardened criminals, but the overwhelming majority had been sentenced to at least 20 years. Fourteen of them had been sentenced to life for nonviolent drug offenses, so their punishments didn’t fit the crime," Mr. Obama said in a video the White House released on Facebook. He noted that if they had been sentenced under today’s laws, nearly all would have served their time already.

"I believe that, at its heart, America is a nation of second chances, and I believe these folks deserve their second chance," the president added.

The White House also released a copy of a letter Mr. Obama wrote to Jerry Allen Bailey, one of the people whose sentences he is commuting. Bailey was sentenced to 360 months’ imprisonment and 10 years’ supervised release in April 1996 for conspiracy to violate narcotics laws.

"I am granting your application because you have demonstrated the potential to turn your life around," the president wrote. "Now it is up to you to make the most of this opportunity. It will not be easy, and you will confront many who doubt people with criminal records can change. Perhaps even you are unsure of how you will adjust to your new circumstances. But remember that you have the capacity to make good choices."

"I believe in your ability to prove the doubters wrong, and change your life for the better," he adds at the end.

Criminal justice reform has emerged as a rare issue uniting politicians on the right and left. The Corrections Act, introduced by Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, aims to shorten sentences for low-risk federal inmates while also reducing their chances of returning to prison.

A handful of liberals and conservatives — including Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Jeff Flake of Arizona, and Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Cory Booker of New Jersey — have introduced the Smarter Sentencing Act. Two 2016 Republican candidates, Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky, have also signed on to the bill, which would give judges more discretion in sentencing those convicted of nonviolent drug offenses.

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Hillary Clinton: Criminal justice system "unbalanced"

Paul and Booker have also introduced a bill crafted to complement other sentencing reform efforts, called the Redeem Act (the "Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment" Act) to reduce recidivism.

At the federal level, the Obama administration has attempted to reform the criminal justice system without the help of Congress. In 2013, Attorney General Eric Holder announced a change in Justice Department policy to avoid draconian mandatory minimum sentencing rules. The department now charges low-level, non-violent drug offenders with offenses that don’t impose mandatory minimum sentences.

The White House also asked the Justice Department to develop criteria for identifying and recommending non-violent, low-level offenders for clemency if they might have been given less harsh sentences under today’s policies.

"The President’s decision to commute the sentences of 46 more individuals today is another sign of our commitment to correcting these inequities. We will continue to recommend to the President appropriate candidates for clemency, and we will continue to work with Congress on recalibrating our sentencing laws for non-violent drug offenders," Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates said in a statement after the president’s announcement.

Mr. Obama will discuss criminal justice reforms when he addresses the NAACP convention in Philadelphia on Tuesday. On Thursday, he will visit the El Reno federal prison and will take part in the taping of an HBO special on the criminal justice system, making him the first U.S. president to visit a federal prison.

CBS News Political Reporter Stephanie Condon contributed to this story.

CONTINUE READING…

Prison operator sued in death of former marijuana provider

By Sanjay Talwani – MTN News

Connect

Lawsuit (MTN News photo)

  

Prison photo (MTN News photo)

  

HELENA –

The widow of a former medical marijuana provider who died while serving time is suing the operator of Montana’s only private prison.

A federal lawsuit says Corrections Corporations of America failed to give the inmate (Flor) needed medical care while at its Crossroads Correctional Center outside Shelby.

Flor died in August 2012 in a Las Vegas hospital on the way to a federal prison medical facility.

Before that, according to the lawsuit, he endured extreme pain while he awaited an assignment to a federal facility.

His lawyer, Brad Arndorfer, had tried to have him released from prison pending his appeal because of health reasons. And in prison, the lawsuit says, Flor and his family made multiple requests for medical care but did not receive any.

Flor was unable to adequately care for himself or feed himself, and his care was left to other inmates, the lawsuit claims.

Flor was 68 and a co-founder of Montana Cannabis, one of the state’s largest medical marijuana providers. It was shut down in 2011 by federal authorities along with similar operations around the state.

An inquiry to the attorney representing CCA in the case was returned with an email from a CCA spokesman.

Steven Owen, CCA’s managing director of communications, said in the email that CCA could not comment in a particular inmate’s case. But he said staff are firmly committed to the inmates’ health and safety.

He also said CCA meets or exceeds all of the standards of the U.S. Marshals Service, the Montana Department of Corrections, and the American Correctional Association.

"The facility and staff are subject to strong oversight by on-site monitors who regularly inspect and audit our processes for delivering care," he said in the email.

The suit was first filed on May 6 in state District Court in Yellowstone County. It has moved to U.S. District Court in Billings and was re-filed there Monday. CCA, based in Tennessee, has not yet filed a response.

Arndorfer filed the suit on behalf of Flor’s widow, Sherry Flor, and did not immediately respond to a telephone message seeking comment.

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We live in the only country in the world where a child can be sentenced to be in prison until they die

Juwan being interrogated

We live in the only country in the world where a child can be sentenced to be in prison until they die.

What’s worse is that it’s not even rare — more than 2,500 people who were sentenced as kids will spend the rest of their lives in prison.

Juwan is one of them. He was a skinny 16-year-old kid when he was arrested after he saw a companion kill a pizza deliveryman. The shooter was never convicted, but because Juwan was present and had a gun, he was sentenced to spend the rest of his life behind bars.

Without the possibility of parole, Juwan will never have a second chance for rehabilitation.

Just one year before Juwan was sentenced, the Supreme Court decided that mandatory juvenile life without parole was unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment.

The problem is — the decision left gaping loopholes and didn’t ban the sentence outright, meaning that Juwan and other children became victims of poor timing and inadequate policy implementation. While six states have moved to ban the practice, this barbaric punishment is still perfectly legal in 44 states.

But the Department of Justice has the power to close some of these loopholes and set the standard on the federal level. By providing policy guidelines for U.S. attorneys, the DOJ can ensure that judges are empowered to use discretion and give appropriate sentences based on unique circumstances.

Attorney General Eric Holder has already endorsed proposals that limit life without parole sentences for non-violent drug offenders. If he hears from thousands of us who support criminal justice reform, he can provide the tools needed to limit juvenile life without parole sentences.

It’s time that we give kids like Juwan a second chance at life.

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Schapelle Corby: Time to let go of our obsession

Michael Bachelard

Michael Bachelard
Indonesia correspondent for Fairfax Media

Schapelle Corby waits in her cell before her trial in 2005.

CORBY: THE FACTS

 

Another nuance of activity occurred in Bali on Tuesday, as the parole process for Schapelle Corby inched forward once again. Representatives of an agency of the Indonesian Justice Department visited the house where she would be required to live if she were let out of jail early.

Even though she has not yet applied for parole, as with all things Corby, the "news" drove some of the frothier parts of the Australian media into habitual overdrive.

Schapelle Corby  is escorted by police to a courtroom in Denpasar in 2006.

Schapelle Corby is escorted by police to a courtroom in Denpasar in 2006. Photo: AFP

Some outlets have even put a date on her release – October 30.

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Well, that may or may not be so. Like the last time a date was so confidently predicted (in May last year, August 2012 was said to be when she would return to Australia), it’s far enough away to be possible, yet not so close that anyone is held accountable if the date is missed.

So, assuming her release is coming up after almost nine years in jail, let’s take the opportunity to assess our attitude to Schapelle Corby.

Schapelle Corby and fellow convicted drug mule Renae Lawrence in Kerobokan Jail in 2010.

Schapelle Corby and fellow convicted drug mule Renae Lawrence in Kerobokan Jail in 2010. Photo: Jason Childs

Many people have spent a great deal of time and energy poring over this one woman’s case – the Australian consulate in Bali; authors; lawyers; dozens, if not hundreds of journalists; prison officials, professional internet conspiracy theorists, politicians in both Australia and Indonesia.

It’s not only the Australian media who go into a frenzy at the mention of her name. She has become a touchstone in the Indonesian press, too. There, though, it’s not about an innocent entrapped in a third-world system, it’s about the ugly habit of Westerners to aggressively demand special treatment.

The head of Bali’s Kerobokan jail, Gusti Ngurah Wiratna, remarked to the press in frustration recently: "I’ve got 1000 prisoners, why are you only interested in Schapelle?"

Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of dollars, have changed hands – for paid interviews with the family, internet ads, defamation actions and other civil court actions, royalties and lawyers fees.

Her 2004 arrest and imprisonment has turned into a Schapelle industry.

Sadly, for several years, the subject of that industry has suffered from severe mental health issues, and has largely removed herself from its centre. Even the Corby family-friendly journalists can only quote  "those who know and live with her" in their stories because Corby herself refuses any direct interaction with the press.

She does not even go to the visitor’s area of Kerobokan in case there might be journalists there. Her absence, for the same reason, from compulsory prison events, has potentially even harmed her cause.

For a long time  Fairfax Media readers have held the dual belief that Corby is guilty, but that she deserves a shortened sentence.

Views of her innocence in the broader public are likely to be higher, but substantially lower than at the height of the "Our Schapelle" frenzy of 2004 and 2005.

It’s her perceived innocence that initially drove the Corby story to the point of obsession, but even though this has changed, nine years later, we in the media remain closely focused on every detail of her incarceration and possible release.

Perhaps we assume people will be moved by the same impulses, or the echoes of the impulses, that moved them a decade ago.

But let’s consider what all this will mean when she is ultimately released, whether on parole or at the end of her sentence.

After 10 years in a bubble, Corby will be exposed to the world.

She’ll be walking the narrow streets of Kuta, living in a Balinese compound whose address is well known, with the world’s media – including a chaotic Indonesian press pack – on her doorstep.

The inevitable paid interviews will create an appetite among the unsuccessful bidders for exclusives of a different kind – for evidence of her poor mental state, for pictures of her drinking her first beer, wearing a bikini at the beach, hanging out with a man, throwing a tantrum.

In the open, she’ll lack the protection afforded by the Australian consulate from the tourists and stickybeaks who even now occasionally try to get into the jail to visit her.

The local police are unwilling and unequipped to provide any protection.

Whatever you think of her guilt or innocence, Corby has served a long sentence, and her adjustment to life on the outside – difficult as it will be already – can only be made immeasurably harder by such attention.

Perhaps it’s time to let go of our decade-long obsession and finally just leave Schapelle Corby alone.

CORBY: THE FACTS
• Corby has been eligible for parole for more than a year, since the Indonesian president granted her clemency with a five-year sentence reduction;
• She has not yet applied for parole, and the Indonesians have not started the process, because the Indonesian immigration department has not yet confirmed that she can get a visa to be able to serve out her sentence in Bali with her sister Mercedes and brother-in-law Wayan;
• All the other conditions for parole – including an unprecedented letter from the Australian government guaranteeing her good behaviour – are in place;
• With continued remission for good behaviour, she is likely to be out in 2015 even if she does not win parole.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/world/schapelle-corby-time-to-let-go-of-our-obsession-20130814-2rvuc.html#ixzz2cKeyqYu5

Schapelle Corby
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